Durban: Fast bowling pair Dale Steyn and Vernon Philander will reunite as South Africa seek to start the long climb back up the rankings in the first Test against New Zealand in Durban on Friday.
When Steyn and Philander last shared the new ball, in the first Test against India in Mohali last November, South Africa were the top-ranked side. Now they are a lowly seventh, two places behind New Zealand.
Steyn strained a groin in the first innings of the Mohali match and did not bowl in the second innings.
Since then he has played only one Test, against England in Durban last December, when he suffered a shoulder injury which ruled him out of the second innings.
Philander had an ankle injury before the second Test in India and has missed South Africa’s last seven Tests.
At Kingsmead, Steyn and Philander are set to team up for the first time with Kagiso Rabada, South Africa’s 21-year-old fast bowling phenomenon, who was named the country’s cricketer of the year last month.
With the tall Morne Morkel ruled out of the two-match series because of a back injury, the selectors have been spared having to decide which one of four fine fast bowlers to omit.
Pitch conditions for the bowlers, however, are an unknown factor.
It is the first time a Test series has been played in South Africa in August, at least two months earlier than usual, and the pitches in Durban, and Centurion next week, could be slower than normal.
While South Africa have slipped backwards with series losses against India and England, New Zealand have surged ahead.
It was four seasons ago when the Black Caps were bowled out for 45 on the first day of their previous series in South Africa, going on to lose both Tests by an innings.
Then-captain Brendon McCullum identified that low as a turning point, with the players getting together and appraising honestly their attitude to cricket and why they played it.
Out of the depths of despair came a positive attitude and improved performances, as well as an obvious enjoyment of the game which has made them one of the most popular sides in cricket.
After the mauling by South Africa, they lost a series in England later in 2013 but since then have only lost two series out of 11, both against Australia, who also beat them in the 2015 World Cup final.
McCullum has retired, with the captaincy passing to Kane Williamson, 26, one of cricket’s most talented young batsmen.
His first venture in charge was the recent series in Zimbabwe, where New Zealand won both Tests comfortably.
It will be a battle of inexperienced captains, with Faf du Plessis standing in for the injured AB de Villiers, who himself has only captained South Africa twice since being appointed midway through the series against England last season.
South Africa (likely): Faf du Plessis (capt), Dean Elgar, Stephen Cook, Hashim Amla, JP Duminy, Temba Bavuma, Quinton de Kock (wkt), Vernon Philander, Dale Steyn, Dane Piedt, Kagiso Rabada
New Zealand (from): Kane Williamson (capt), Martin Guptill, Tom Latham, Ross Taylor, Henry Nicholls, BJ Watling (wkt), Mitchell Santner, Tim Southee, Ish Sodhi, Neil Wagner, Trent Boult, Doug Bracewell, Mark Craig, Matt Henry, Luke Ronchi (wkt), Jeet Raval
Umpires: Ian Gould, Richard Illingworth (both ENG)
TV umpire: Paul Reiffel (AUS)
Match referee: Andy Pycroft (ZIM).